Grand Jury Proceedings in New Jersey
If you have been accused of a significant crime in New Jersey, a grand jury will hear evidence to decide whether you should be formally charged and proceed to court. A grand jury does not decide guilt or innocence.
New Jersey’s criminal procedures and use of the Grand Jury are different from other states. This may confuse people from elsewhere or those whose only prior contact with court proceedings is through TV or movies.
Below, the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall provides an overview of the Grand Jury process in New Jersey. Grand juries handle indictable offenses, which are known as felonies in other jurisdictions. Anyone facing indictment by a N.J. grand jury needs to be represented by a criminal defense attorney with experience in New Jersey.
- We are deeply experienced N.J. criminal defense attorneys.
- Our team is made up of former prosecutors and public defenders from across the state.
- As your defense team, we can put 100 years of combined legal experience into fighting any charges against you.
- With nine offices, we are equipped to serve you anywhere in New Jersey.
If you have been arrested and face indictment, or have been indicted in New Jersey, call us now, day or night, even if it’s a weekend. We will work quickly to ensure your rights are protected.
SCHEDULE A FREE CONSULTATION
What Does a New Jersey Grand Jury Do?
A grand jury seated in New Jersey hears evidence presented by a local prosecutor about alleged crimes in the county where the jury sits. Grand jurors determine whether there is sufficient evidence to move forward with criminal charges against a defendant.
A county grand jury is composed of up to 23 citizens who have been selected at random from voter registrations, driver’s licenses and tax rolls. A juror must be a U.S. citizen, must be at least 18 years old, and must be able to read and understand English. Each county in New Jersey is required to have at least one grand jury sitting at all times.
Grand juries hear evidence about indictable offenses, which are more serious crimes. They are sometimes referred to as felonies, though New Jersey law does not use that term. Indictable offenses are tried in Superior Court. Minor crimes, known as disorderly persons offenses or petty disorderly persons offenses, are heard in municipal courts and do not involve grand juries.
Do not confuse a grand jury with a petit jury. A petit jury is seated in Superior Court and decides the outcome of a criminal trial, or a civil trial in which monetary damages are sought.
A grand jury may decide there is sufficient evidence to formally charge the defendant and require him to respond to the charges. This is known as returning a true bill of indictment, or indicting the defendant. An indictment is not a finding of guilt or a conviction.
If the Grand Jury decides there is not sufficient evidence to move forward, it returns a no bill. The Grand Jury may also decide to charge the defendant with a less serious offense, which may be downgraded from what the prosecutor sought and remanded to municipal court.
A majority of grand jury members–12 or more people–must vote to return a true bill of indictment.
A Grand Jury Is the Prosecutor’s Indictment Tool
The problem a grand jury poses for the defendant is that the defendant typically does not appear before a grand jury. The defendant’s attorney is not present, either. Their side of the story is not heard.
Sometimes a defendant may testify at the prosecutor’s request. But by doing so, the defendant surrenders their Constitutional right against self-incrimination (5th Amendment rights), so it is not usually advisable. This might occur if a defendant has already worked out a plea bargain requiring them to testify against co-defendants, for example.
In most cases, the prosecutor has the Grand Jury all to his or herself. The proceedings of a grand jury are kept secret. Members and staff take an oath of secrecy.
The old saying is that a prosecutor can have a ham sandwich indicted if he wants to. In truth, a prosecutor has no reason to take a case to the Grand Jury unless he or she is confident of obtaining an indictment.
If it was up to you what evidence and witness testimony a grand jury heard, do you think you could get jurors to see things your way?
Hire an Attorney Before a Grand Jury Hears Your Case
If you have been arrested for an indictable offense or you know you are being investigated, you need experienced criminal defense counsel. There are multiple opportunities to have charges downgraded or dismissed, or to enter diversion programs before a grand jury hears evidence against you and returns an indictment.
The sooner an attorney from the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall is involved in your case, the better chance you have to stop a grand jury from indicting you.
Our legal team can launch an independent investigation into the charges against you as soon as we are retained as your attorneys. We are former prosecutors ourselves. We recognize and challenge weak cases when we see them.
It is not unusual for prosecutors to agree to reduce or dismiss charges, even for indictable offenses, once they know we are the defense team and we have developed a strong defense strategy.
Once a prosecutor has made a pre-indictment plea offer, they must make the evidence against the defendant available to us in most cases. Understanding the content of this material gives us a stronger bargaining hand, and provides an opportunity to argue for disputable evidence to be thrown out.
We often get prosecutors to agree to our clients’ admission to diversion programs, such as the state’s Pre-Trial Intervention Program (PTI) , probation, drug or alcohol treatment programs, etc. After a defendant has completed diversion, it’s easier to obtain a plea agreement for reduced or dismissed charges.
In addition to investigating the evidence in your case, we can also investigate the Grand Jury. New Jersey law allows challenges to the makeup of a grand jury if there are discrepancies in how it was selected, drawn or summoned.
It is also possible to challenge an individual juror if that juror is not legally qualified to sit on the Grand Jury. For example, a juror should not sit in a matter in which he or she has a bias or a financial, proprietary, or personal interest.
A successful challenge to a grand jury’s makeup or an individual juror’s eligibility may be the basis of a motion to dismiss an indictment.
If an indictment moves forward, our team has decades of trial experience to draw upon as we prepare a strong defense. We will continue to negotiate for reduced or dismissed charges, and be ready to present a persuasive case to a jury if your case goes to trial. When a conviction cannot be avoided, our team will press for a minimal sentence and alternatives to jail time.
Remember, the burden is always on the prosecution to prove their case, and we do not intend to give an inch. It is better to get ahead of a grand jury proceeding, but having an experienced New Jersey defense team in your corner is crucial anytime you are dealing with an indictable offense.
You can’t stop a grand jury on your own. Sometimes we can. Other times, we can make sure you are prepared to make the best opportunity out of what comes next.
Contact us today. An initial legal consultation is always free.
Contact Our N.J. Defense Attorneys for Free Advice Today
Protect yourself from indictment by a New Jersey grand jury by acting as soon as possible after an arrest or notification of impending charges. Contact our N.J. criminal defense attorneys for a free, no-obligation consultation and learn how our depth of experience can make a difference in your case.